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Editor sentenced to six months' imprisonment on spurious fraud charges

(RSF/IFEX) - On 10 June 2010, Taoufik Bouachrine, managing editor of the daily "Akhbar Al-Youm", was sentenced to six months' imprisonment on fraud charges. The charges stem from Bouachrine's purchase of a home in Rabat three years ago. According to the home owner, the editor failed to come through with the deposit amount agreed to at the time of purchase; the homeowner subsequently filed suit in June 2009.

"This case has already been decided twice – in 2007 and 2008," Bouachrine told RSF. "The courts have ruled (in my favour). You cannot be sentenced in a case in which you have already been found not guilty. The judge refused to hear the testimony of a witness present at the time the deed was signed. The notary even testified before the court that everything was legal. Nothing seemed to matter. It's clear that I am paying today for my paper's editorial line. The government doesn't want to be seen to be going after journalists for their reporting so it treats them like gangsters or criminals. We just saw this with the case of Ali Amar. Morocco is now taking a page from Tunisia, with its trumped up cases against journalists. They're playing the Ben Brik card," lamented Bouachrine.

The editor says he intends to appeal the verdict. "Until justice is rendered on appeal, I refuse to write," he told RSF.

"Akhbar Al-Youm" drew fire from the government last fall after it published a caricature of the King's cousin, Moulay Ismaïl. Bouachrine and cartoonist Khalid Gueddar were both tried on charges of "disrespect to a member of the royal family" and given a suspended three-year sentence by a lower court on 31 October 2009. The pair were also ordered to pay 270 000 euros in damages to the Prince and the paper was ordered closed. The sentence was upheld on appeal on 29 December 2009. The next day, the Prince asked that the sentence not be carried out.

Journalist Ali Amar's trial on aggravated robbery charges opened in Casablanca on 10 June 2010; the hearing has been postponed to 15 June. The case offers another example of a journalist being made to pay for his critical writing through false criminal charges.

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